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Patients will suffer without right number of doctors and nurses – NHS leaders

Without proper planning standards of care will slip and patients will wait longer, according to a poll.

28 March 2022

Patients will suffer due to shortfalls in the number of NHS doctors and nurses, health leaders have warned.

The NHS is “flying blind” over future staffing needs and a lack of planning will mean that waiting times will increase and standards of care will slip, leading medics have said.

A new poll of NHS leaders in England found that 98% believe staff shortages will slow down the speed at which the health service can treat the 6.1 million people waiting for hospital care.

And 97% of NHS trust leaders believe that current workforce shortages are having a “serious and detrimental” impact on services.

The new survey of 236 NHS leaders, conducted by the NHS Providers organisation, found that the majority were concerned that waiting times and standards of care would slip without proper plans for future staffing needs.

It comes as the Government faces a fresh push to amend its Health and Care Bill to include a legal requirement for the health and social care sector to have an independent workforce assessment so it can prepare for future staffing needs.

More than 100 health organisations, including Royal Colleges and health charities, wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to pass the amendment.

The letter, seen by the PA news agency, says: “Recovery of our health and care services will be fatally undermined without a comprehensive workforce strategy that addresses endemic staff shortages by projecting future demand and supply.”

The group, led by the Royal College of Physicians, says the current approach of future workforce planning has “not worked”, adding: “The Bill now provides a mechanism for attaining clarity about the number of doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and social care staff we need now and into the future.

“Without it, we will continue to fly blind on NHS and social care staffing.

“Recovery of our health and care services will be fatally undermined without a comprehensive workforce strategy that addresses endemic staff shortages by projecting future demand and supply.”

Meanwhile, the NHS Providers poll highlighted particular concerns about shortages of nurses and midwives.

Some trust leaders expressed concerns that a lack of maternity staff could mean that they will not be able to live up to standards set out in the Ockenden report into baby deaths, which is due to be published later this week.

And current shortfalls of radiographers are preventing progress in creating diagnostic hubs – a key aspect pf the NHS’ future plans and its ability to tackle the record waiting list.

Low pay for health support workers and admin staff mean many of these workers are turning to the retail and hospitality sectors, trust leaders said.

It comes after Unison said that supermarkets, coffee shops and logistics firms are among those promoting wages higher than the lowest hourly rates in the NHS, which is drawing 999 call handlers, healthcare assistants, medical secretaries and cleaners away from work in the health service.

NHS Providers deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery, said: “NHS trusts and their overstretched staff are working incredibly hard to cut waiting times against a backdrop of worryingly high numbers of Covid-19 cases in hospitals, but they’re doing this with one hand tied behind their backs.

“Our survey makes clear the grave consequences of staffing gaps for quality of care, patient safety and staff morale.

“We need the Government to commit to publishing regular assessments of how many health and social care staff are needed to keep pace with projected demand over the next five, ten and 20 years.

“The Government must set out how it plans to tackle 110,000 NHS staff vacancies and make workloads sustainable. A long-term plan for a resilient workforce is vital.”

The Royal College of Psychiatrists also backed the amendment, saying that a chronic shortage of specialist mental health doctors has led to many patients waiting for too long for their care.

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